Harvard should look closer at its reasons for eliminating early action

Sept. 28, 2006, midnight | By Lois Bangiolo | 17 years, 6 months ago

Early decision, not early action is the problem

At a time when college frenzy can begin the moment a student steps through the doors of high school, Harvard has just taken a step toward making the frenzy last longer.

With Harvard's recent announcement that it was going to end early admission starting with the class of 2012, it has set the standard for other major colleges and universities. If it were only one institution abolishing early notification, then it would be a minor decision, but Harvard has thrown its reputation behind it to convince others to follow their lead, and Princeton and the University of Virginia already have.

Harvard says it will be ending early admissions to make its admission process fairer to financially disadvantaged students because early admission programs "tend to advantage the advantaged," said Harvard interim president Derek Bok in the Harvard Gazette. This argument, like all others Harvard offers, is not against early action, the non-binding early notification that Harvard offers, but early decision.

Early decision, unlike early action, is a binding decision. If students apply early and are accepted, then they must attend. According to "Admissions Preferences For Alums' Kids Draw Fire," a report in the Wall Street Journal, the acceptance rate for early decision is 35 percent at Princeton compared to 11 percent for applicants who apply in January. With admission rates noticeably higher for those who apply early, poorer students are left out. They cannot apply early decision, because there is no way to compare financial aid packages when they are forced to accept one college's decision before they learn of the others. Harvard is correct in calling for the end of early decision programs because of the inherent unfairness, but early action, by not binding a student, does not have the same problems as early decision.

Early action allows students to find out four months earlier whether they have been accepted to their top choice school, shortening the college preparation process that has been going on throughout high school. In ninth grade, students are encouraged to participate in extracurriculars, because for college, the longer a student participates in activities and the more activities they do, the better. Standardized testing for college also begins in the ninth grade, with students taking a practice PSAT.

Early action applications' Nov. 1 due date means two fewer months to worry over college applications and four fewer months month to worry over acceptance. If accepted, students are under no pressure to attend, and if money is a concern, they have until May 1, the same reply date as regular admission, to find the best financial aid package for them. Also, students who accept a school's early invitation can save the exorbitant application fees — $75 per college — they'd have to spend to keep applying to colleges under regular admission.

With letters of acceptance in hand by mid-December, students could be more inclined to fall sway to senioritis even earlier, but Harvard and other like minded colleges should remember their own policies before using this to abolish early action. If student grades drop too far, the college has to the right to rescind admission, a warning that applies to students admitted both in December and in April.

Harvard has also forgotten a key reason why its students are not as diverse as the school would like them to be. It's called legacy, and it is used as a bonus point for applications of the applicants whose family members have attended Harvard. These students are the ones who are likely to come from privileged background. According to the Wall Street Journal article, the acceptance rate for legacies was forty percent, compared with 11 percent for regular applicants.

If Harvard wants diversity, perhaps it should remove the legacy advantage, a policy that benefits mainly the advantaged, before it removes a policy that can end college stress for rich and poor alike.

Lois Bangiolo. Lois Bangiolo was born on March 14, pi day, an auspicious date as she is now in the math-science magnet. In addition to writing for Silver Chips Online she runs track and is secretary of the MBHS Key Club. More »

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